It’s never just a coffee (It’s interview Number 1)

So you are job searching. And in response to one of your proactive enquiries you receive a positive response: “Let’s meet up for a coffee

That’s nice you think. A chance to talk about the role and opportunity informally and off the record.


You have not been invited for a hazelnut encrusted, caffeine fuelled chat. You have just been informed of the date of your first interview. If you prepare for this as anything other than a formal interview you are risking ruining your hard won opportunity before you really even enter the race.

Too many candidates take the deceptively simple and low-key “Let’s meet up for a coffee” invitation at face value. As a result, they turn up unprepared, uninformed and worst of all, unimpressive.

So what can you do in advance of an ‘informal’ interview over coffee? Well, as it turns out, many things. And most of them are relatively quick to prepare.

Taking action on these ten steps ahead of a meeting about a potential new role will ensure you position yourself as the Obvious Candidate.

  • Investigate who you are meeting with. Do you already know them? As a minimum, a quick visit to their LinkedIn profile will help you understand a little more about their background and likely perspective. For example – do they have a technical focus or a commercial focus?
  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated. It is highly unlikely they won’t Google you in advance. LinkedIn is your chance to showcase the best of your experience. Keep it updated. Ensure it is focused towards the potential new role. Even a slight tweak to the wording of your headline can position you as a more obvious candidate.
  • Prepare for key questions. There are certain questions you should have planned answers for:
  1. Why are you interested in this job?
  2. Why are you interested in this organisation?
  3. What will make you a strong candidate for the role?
  4. What do you think will be the key challenges this role will face?
  5. Why are you wanting to change jobs at this time?

There are plenty of other questions that could come up, but given that this is supposed to be an informal meeting, you should find that having well thought through responses to the five questions above will see you through most initial stage questions.

  • Take a couple of printed copies of your CVThis may be premature. But it’s far better to be prepared. If the conversation turns to the details of your experience, you’ll look professional if you can at least leave a copy with your interviewer. But it may be to your advantage to be able to point out some specific experience or achievements. Taking two copies means you’ll have one for them and one for you. Or if they bring someone else along you’ll still be prepared.
  • Investigate the organisation. The minimum preparation is to thoroughly research their website. But that’s really not enough. Serious candidates will also consider digging into their competitors, industry overviews, trend reports, annual reports and news history. Don’t forget that it would be embarrassing not to know their brands, their key business areas, the name of key personnel – The CEO, the head of the department you’d be joining etc. You may also want to check what consumers are saying about the company or its brands or policies on social media. This kind of preparation will enable you to hold a sensible conversation about the company without being exposed.
  • Dress for the part. If in doubt dress up rather than down. It is an interview. No need to over-do it but ensure you’re looking professional.
  • Arrive early. Don’t keep them waiting. Far better to be casually early rather than creating a negative first impression on time keeping.
  • Double check the timing and venue in advance. A simple email the day before, or on the morning of, an afternoon meeting is fine. It’s professional and can avoid an embarrassing misunderstanding of coffee shop locations. Be specific.
  • Don’t miss the chance to show your interest. If at the end of the meeting you’re interested, then say so. Don’t leave them guessing. Express your interest in the role and enquire what would be the next steps in your selection process.
  • Choose your coffee in advance. Don’t get caught looking indecisive during the first interview. They will ask you what you’re drinking. Keep it simple for them. This isn’t the time for the Venti Decaf Skinny Mocha, Extra Hot.

This meeting is not about the coffee.

Written by Sam Waterfall for FDIN Jobs.

FDIN Jobs is the career development portal for The Food & Drink Innovation Network - the UK's community for successful innovation professionals.

To see more articles like this - visit us here.

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